If you’re like most new middle schoolers, you may be worried about leaving some of your old friends behind, changing schools, encountering lots of strangers, or dealing with old friends who are starting to act differently. The good news is: that is absolutely normal. Nearly everyone who goes through the middle school transition has these same worries. In fact, two of the biggest skills you will learn in middle school are 1) when to let go of people whose friendships have run their course, and 2) how to recognize real friends when they come along. So if you’re concerned about this topic, read on! We can help prepare you for what’s ahead.
What to Expect
Middle school means change – in the school you attend, how you get there, the way your classes are scheduled, the number of teachers you have, and, yes, even in your friendships. So, the first thing you should do is to expect to feel apprehensive. Because the one thing in this world that frightens almost everyone is change.
This can be especially scary when you think about middle school and friendships. That’s because, when we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, it’s easy to fill in the blanks with the things we fear the most, like having to eat lunch alone at school every day, or having everyone look through you, or accidentally getting trapped inside your locker and never being seen again. (We threw that last example in just because it can help to exaggerate your fears until the point where they get ridiculous and you can finally laugh at them, recognizing that none of them are actually real and they’re all just in your imagination.) But the truth is that the things we fear the most very, very rarely actually happen. So don’t let those imagined fears get the most of you—you are far more resilient than you think. You have made friends before and you will make them again. That’s a portable skill, and, besides, there’s a lot of benefits to adding new friends to your roster of old ones.
For example, remember that great feeling you had when you connected with one of your current friends for the first time? It probably felt organic and effortless because something was said or done that magically drew you together in friendship. You recognized a kindred spirit in each other. Those feelings are priceless. But now, as you transition to another school, you’ll get to go through a similar cycle of turning a new leaf and increasing the parameters of your friend zone. Trust the process in the same way you did with your current friends, and soon enough, you’ll have new friends and tons more great memories to share with others.
As for your old friends: even if you feel like you just started to get some momentum going with your current friends, remember that there are tons of ways to stay in touch and keep the friendships going, even if they ended up attending a different middle school. Whether by email, phone, texting, or social media, you can take turns reporting on each other’s adventures adapting to middle school. Sharing your unique experiences with each other will not only broaden your perspective on life, it can help you sort things out in your own head to describe what you are going through to others.
And remember that you don’t have to be there every day with someone for them to appreciate you as a friend and vice versa. See friends from elementary school on weekends or holidays if you miss being with them. Your parents or guardian would probably be glad to help you make a plan to stay in touch before you switch to the new school, and knowing that you will see your old friends soon enough can help with the transition.
In other words: expect the issue of friendships in middle school to seem scary at times, but also expect to get through those times with more friends than ever. You can do this!
How to Recognize a True Friend
You will meet many, many new people in your life—starting in middle school!That’s exciting because everyone you meet is a potential new friend. But how do you know if a person is good friend material? Here’s are some things to look for:
- True friends support and encourage you, they make you feel good, and they leave you feeling confident and happy. They give you genuine compliments on how you act and look without asking for anything in return. And they can compliment you, and feel good on your behalf, without feeling as if they have to compete or receive a compliment in return every time.
- True friends accept you for who you are so they tend to like the things in you that you like in yourself. For example, do you have a crazy head of hair that makes you stand out, especially in the morning before you comb it, and do you secretly like your mile-high, dandelion-looking mop top because it’s different? Real friends will appreciate how entertaining your morning hair is, too!
- Friends cheer you on and want you to succeed. And even when you have to compete (it’s hard to avoid, right?), they’re happy when you do well.
- True friends are there when you need them, they’re not just there when they need you.
- True friends will talk to you openly and honestly, especially when they have a problem with you or when you have inadvertently hurt their feelings. They won’t punish you with the silent treatment or mean remarks out of nowhere.
- Even when true friends are critical or disagree with you, they make sure your feelings are protected. For example, instead of saying, “Graphic novels are stupid and anyone who reads them is dumb,” they might say something like, “I don’t really like graphic novels, but I’m glad you do because you seem to learn a lot of interesting things reading them.”
- True friends tell you the truth, even when it’s hard. They care enough to point out when you might be on the wrong track, like when they say, “Why didn’t you do your homework? You had to know you were going to get in trouble for that.” —or— “Are you sure you really know that guy well enough to like him? I’ve seen him get really angry with other people and I’m not sure I want him losing his temper with you.”
- Friends do not talk about you behind your back and friends keep your secrets private. A lot of people love gossip. But a real friend will resist the temptation to get attention by repeating something you’ve told them in confidence. They’ll respect your trust and keep your secrets to themselves.
- Real friends will make time for you, even if they have other friends. That means setting aside time to spend it with you in person, answering your texts (even if they can’t right away), and accepting your invitations to hang out (even if they can’t say yes every single time).
- Friends keep their promises. They show up when they say they will. They have your back when they promise to. They follow through when you ask them for a favor.
- Real friends like you for yourself, not because you are popular, or come from a wealthy family, or have a house at the beach they like, or do well at sports, or help them with their homework, or because they’re bored and their other friends aren’t around. In other words, they like you, not the things you can do for them.
- True friends listen and pay attention to you when you’re together, they don’t multi-task by constantly checking their phones or looking at other people. They give you their full attention when you have something important to say, and they let you do the talking at times.
Remember, not everyone is going to be able to check all of these boxes all of the time! We’re human beings, after all, and no human being is perfect, no matter how perfect they may seem on the outside. But if someone displays a lot of the characteristics above when interacting with you? They are probably good friend material!
How to Be a Better Friend Yourself
- Look at the attributes in our article called How to Recognize a True Friend and aspire to modeling those same behaviors toward your friends.
- Share the good and the bad times with your friends. When you open up about things that are going wrong, you are showing your friends that you trust them. This will, in turn, make them more comfortable about sharing with you.
- Really listen to them when they talk. Don’t check your phone. Don’t interrupt them. Don’t look around for someone more popular to talk to. Pay attention to what they are saying and how they seem to be feeling. Show them you are listening by maintaining eye contact, nodding your head, and asking questions at appropriate times. Try to listen beyond what you can hear: how do they seem? How can you be a friend to them in this particular instance? Just remember that you don’t always have to dive in and save them, or give advice. Sometimes (in fact, a lot of the time!) all people really want from a friend is someone to listen to them.
- Be genuine around your friends. It is a sign of trust and acceptance not to be fake around your friends (not to mention, pretending to be someone you’re not or pretending to feel something you don’t, is exhausting!). Plus, when you are yourself around your friends, it makes them feel as if they can be themselves as well.
- Introduce new friends to your old friends and, eventually, maybe even your family. This shows your friends you want them to be part of their life.
- Agree to do things both of you like, even if it means compromise, especially at the beginning. You can’t possibly know what a person likes to do until you hang out with them, but if you talk about it and agree on an activity you both enjoy at first, you’ll have a stronger friendship as a base when the time comes to try new activities your friend is urging you to try.
- Creating rituals around your friendships are a great way to celebrate them! For example, maybe you like to go to the same ice cream shop for a cone the day you receive your report cards. Or you agree to check in every Sunday night to see if you are both ready for school the next day. When you create a routine or ritual among friends, it’s a sign you want them to be a permanent and important part of your life.
- Take your time. You don’t have to be best friends with anyone over night – and it puts a lot of weight on a friendship when you expect that to happen. People are complicated, and that includes you. Take the time to really get to know someone before you declare undying friendship and give other people time to know you. This will make it more likely they truly know you and accept you for who you are. Plus, you won’t get tired or bored of each other.
- Maintain your independence! Friends are great but you are in charge of your life, including making decisions about what you are interested in and what you like to do. Remember, you are the sun in your own life and your friends orbit you. You don’t always have to do things in pairs, or only do things your friends want to do, or like the same books, movies, and subjects in schools they like. Be yourself and stretch your wings! If you remember that your life belongs to you, and if you make different friends to share your different interests with, you won’t be handing over the responsibility for your happiness to another person—which is a lot to ask of anyone!
- Remember that you need room to explore and change at this time in your life. So be a good friend and find good friends, but don’t forget to be friends with yourself!
Making New Friends
Making new friends is a regular part of life. And the neat thing about moving to a new school or town is that you can now have the experience of knowing someone from a different neighborhood and background. Embrace middle school as an opportunity to add to your portfolio of friendships over your lifetime. Just think of how great it would be if you ended up with friends wherever you went! The whole world would be your home.
Besides, moving to a new school is like being handed the opportunity to start over with how you present yourself to the world. You should always be yourself, but if your old friends see you a certain way? Well, now’s your chance to be seen as someone different. For example, maybe you got sick in first grade and have been known forever after, no matter what else you have done since, as the kid who threw up on their teacher’s shoes. Now you can leave that reputation behind! That’s a silly example, but you probably get what we mean: this is an opportunity to not only make new friends but also make friends with who you are now.
Have we convinced you? Okay, then, let’s say the verdict is in: you need new friends. Maybe you’re new in town or at the school. Maybe your old friends are heading down a dark road. Maybe you just want to be someone new. Here are some ways to make new friends if any of those situations apply:
- Is there a new person in your school who seems interesting? Approach them and ask them where they are from and go from there.
- Is there someone in one of your classes whose comments in class intrigue you? Ask them to expand on what they said one day after class and see if that leads to friendship.
- Have you noticed someone sitting alone in the cafeteria or media center, or avoiding having to sit alone by heading out to read under a tree? Approach them and ask them what they are reading, or simply introduce yourself and ask them what they like to do when they aren’t in school.
- If you are a shy person or this seems scary to you, write down some questions ahead of time that are easy to answer and encourage other people to share more about themselves with you. Be sure to offer information about yourself back.
- Believe it or not, even your parents and older siblings have had to face making new friends at times! Certainly whenever they entered a new school, but also as an adult when they started a new job or moved to a new neighborhood. Asking a parent, guardian, or other relative how they made new friends is a great way to get advice on more things you can do to make new friends!
- Be sure to tell a supportive adult in your life—ideally a parent or guardian—that you are widening your circle of friends and would like to invite a new friend or two over to hang out, or have a sleep-over, or to go with you to a family event. You don’t have to ditch your old friend or act like you are replacing them. You are simply adding more friends for when they are not available.
Not only will making new friends allow you to confidently build your own life, it reduces the pressure on your other friends to always be there for you, and it teaches you a lifelong skill. If you learn how to express your interest in others and remain open to the possibility of new friends, you will always have someone to depend on—and you will learn so much more about the world along the way!
Signs a Friendship is Changing
If you suspect a friend is starting to change now that you’ve both arrived at middle school and it worries you, be sure to read all the articles in this section: they will help you realize that changes in friendships are normal in middle school—and that middle school is a great time to make new friends! Then, before you panic, ask yourself if you are seeing any of the following behaviors in a current friendship. If so, it may be a sign that a friendship has run its course or that a friend has changed so much you are no longer compatible. Here are the signs to look for:
- Feeling bad about yourself after seeing a friend can be a sign you’re no longer able to be yourself around them. For example, if you always feel like you’ve done something wrong when the time comes to say good-bye to a friend after you hang out, or when you’ve been in communication with them, the friendship may not be good for you. Friends should leave you feeling better about yourself, not worse.
- They are talking about you to other people behind your back. Just make sure this is actually true and not just someone else talking trash about your friend. And if a friend has started to gossip a lot about other people, look out! That’s a sign they are more likely to be talking about you behind your back.
- A friend has started to make you the butt of their jokes to get laughs from other people. This can be a sign they’re more interested in trying to be admired by new people rather than in protecting your feelings.
- Do you look forward to hanging out with your friend or do you feel the need to keep them separate from your other friends or family? Does being with them feel like fun or are you starting to feel burdened by having to hang out with them? If being friends with someone is starting to feel like a chore, it may be time to gently ease away and let the natural progression of middle school friendships take its course.
- Do you still feel important to your friend? Do they still feel like an important part of your life? Do you still want to make time for them and do they still want to make time for you? Everyone gets busier in middle school, but if you are the one putting all the effort into a friendship, or if you are always have to accommodate your friend’s schedule instead of mutual compromise, maybe it’s time to branch out?
- Are they starting to bail on you or failing to keep their promises? This is unavoidable sometimes, but if it’s happening all the time? Yes, that is a sign they have started to move on and you need to as well. And that’s okay: there’s plenty of fish in the sea when it comes to middle school!
- Has your friendship become an “on and off” drama? If so, how are you getting the support and relaxation you need in a friendship? See Dealing with Friend Drama and then decide if it’s time to get off the merry-go-round and make friends who are more relaxed.
What to do if old friends are changing
If a lot of the behaviors above sound like what’s happening between you and an old friend, the first thing to do is to widen your circle of friends so that you do not have to depend too much on any one person to provide you with friendship. You can’t control what your old friends do (and you should not try to), but you can certainly control what you do. Make more friends, and it will no longer matter so much what one of your friends does.
The second thing to do is to be yourself. It takes confidence to be yourself, especially when you are in middle school. But if you can do it, you will attract people who admire you for that ability and who appreciate you exactly as you are—and that’s what true friends do. You can also concentrate on being who you want to be, and on being a good friend to others, by accepting them as they are. Once you do that, friendships will come and a natural level of closeness will emerge as well.
The bottom line: if you’ve started to question whether your friend is a true friend or not, it’s probably time to give the friendship some room as you concentrate on middle school and on making new friends. Expecting too much from one friendship, or obsessing about it, puts too much weight on the friendship. Whether or not you want it to continue, your best bet is still to give it some breathing room and reduce your dependence on that one friend by embracing the opportunity to make new friends. Good luck!
Dealing with Friend Drama
Middle school can be a hotbed of friend drama and, if you have noticed this, you are to be congratulated on recognizing it for what it is. And, if you want to minimize the friend drama in your life, it can help to understand why people overreact to small problems or seek out conflict. Sometimes, they want attention. Sometimes, they have been hurt and want to spread their unhappiness to others. At other times, they may be bored, or are jealous and so want to sabotage others. These are all emotions that many people cannot deal with effectively, so they try to put them on other people or distract themselves with adrenaline-producing drama.
To add to the problem, a lot of free-time activities these days encourage overreacting, like watching drama-laden television shows or creating posts for social media that people will react to. Understanding the root reason why a person is driven to create drama can help you understand them better. But, in the end, remember this: unnecessary drama takes energy and time away from the things that really are important in life.
Once you realize this, and decide you have better things to do, you can find the courage to manage the drama in your friend circle by doing any or all of these things:
- Work out problems with your friends by talking about them openly, honestly, and with respect before they turn into bigger problems.
- If the friendships are really important to you, talk over why and when the drama started with your friends and see if you can help them identify what the real problem or issue is.
- Instead of being directly involved in a drama, you could be the person who is willing to listen and offer feedback. Tell your friends you won’t take sides or be a part of the drama, but ask if there is anything else you can do to help. Explain you want to remain neutral because protecting all of your friendships is your main priority.
- If you choose to help mediate drama among your friends, remember that once you place yourself in the middle, you are more likely to alienate at least one of the sides. Use caution before you offer to do this.
- Model good behavior by remaining positive, avoiding negative comments about others, and dealing with conflict in healthy, calm, non-exaggerated ways.
- Make a pact among your friends that you will root for each, not compete against each other. Competition is often the root cause of drama among friends.
- Remind everyone of the good times you have together and plan fun activities that keep you all so busy you have little time left over to engage in drama. Plus, your friends might forget about their feuds if they’re having a good time with each other. This probably means actually doing something, like hiking or going to an amusement park. It does not mean sitting around and texting each other. It’s very easy to misunderstand the tone of what people are saying when you’re communicating by texting or email. Talking in person eliminates a lot of the misunderstandings that spark drama.
- See if there is someone else in your circle who wants to join you in helping to reduce the drama. My guess is that you will find at least one ally willing to help you. Your chances of reducing drama will be higher if you have others working with you. Use these more emotionally mature friends in your circle as a refuge when the drama hits.
- Avoid being part of a smaller clique within your larger friend group as this can create drama.
- Avoid arguing or debating with the people in your group who love to create drama since giving them attention only encourages them to repeat that behavior. Even if you were to “win” the argument or debate, the other side would likely blow things out of proportion anyway and cause an even bigger round of drama.
- Remain attentive to how your friends who love drama interact with you. If you notice that they are trying to create conflict with you, find a reason to calmly exit the situation, change the subject, or talk to someone else.
- Avoid drama by staying away from unhealthy conflicts among your friends. This may mean declining to sleep over because last time you got together, two of your friends spent all night fighting. This will teach your friends that you have healthy boundaries and rob them of an audience for their dramas. Remember: drama-prone people feed off the attention of others. Refuse to give them that attention and the drama will likely stop.
- Avoid topics that rile up your drama-prone friends and refuse to engage in conversations you know will end in drama. For example, if you have a friend who explodes in drama about relationship issues or specific people, don’t ask about those things. Have some other topics to talk about instead. You can even start now by listing the topics that tend to set off drama so you know to avoid them.
- Tell your friends you have lots to do in your life and want to limit the time and energy you have to devote to drama. Make a pact to end conversations after five to ten minutes once the drama hits and then stick by your boundaries. Or have a “drama half hour” when you get together with them and pledge to ditch the drama once the half hour is over.
- Avoid phone calls or text wars involving drama. You don’t have to pick up the phone when a friend calls and you don’t have to answer their texts right away. Remain positive and cheerful later on when you explain you were off the grid with your family and could not respond right away. Each hour you can let go by before returning their message will lessen the drama.
- If someone doesn’t get the hint and keeps causing drama, you can always reduce the amount of time you spend with that person without cutting them out entirely. Some people are best enjoyed in small doses. And if they keep trying to engage you in drama? Consider whether the friendship is worth it.
- If all else fails, slowly phase out of the friendship but avoid just disappearing or ghosting them (this will only create more drama).
Acknowledging the futility of useless drama is a sign of maturity. Congratulations and have fun with all the time you’ll save once you learn to recognize and reduce it!